Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of agents from a small, yet powerful consortium called the IT Group on board Carnival’s Elation. This meeting was not nearly as large as the Baltimore Home Based Travel Agent Show, but in a more intimate setting you really get a chance to see the seriousness of some of the agents and owners of today’s agencies.
I was invited to speak about niche marketing due to my success with Single Parent Travel. While everyone seemed to understand the reasons behind creating a niche to supplement (or even replace) their current business, few had any actionable methods to get there. We discussed specific ways to discover, develop and promote to any niche market. It was well received and I was flooded with questions for the duration of the cruise.
Equally as important, I was able to have some candid discussions with industry leaders and senior executives of various tour operators and cruise lines about the status of the industry. If there was a single word that echoed within each of these conversations it would have to be “concerned”. Now this should not come as a shock to anyone—we have seen the economy, experienced some cancellations, and seen the phones slow down a bit. In order to keep America traveling, most suppliers are prepared to make the consumer “deals they can’t refuse”. Coming in the first quarter of 2009, do not be surprised to see cruise pricing as low as $25 per day. Expect to see relaxed deposit requirements and more favorable cancellation terms. Expect to see some agencies close like Cruise Value Center did last week. And predictably, expect to see some agencies grow.
So, how do you become one of the growers and not one of the goers? First and foremost, continue to market yourself. Contact your clients to let them know you are still around and keep in touch with them at least twice a month. If you aren’t, please send me your list and I will be happy to contact them on my behalf. Make an appointment with yourself to do this twice a month, and you will be well positioned to weather the storm.
With ridiculously low pricing on the horizon, you can assume your commission will decrease. It only makes sense, 15% of $100 is a lot less than 15% of $500. But you don’t need to sit back and take it like you probably did when the airlines eliminated commissions. Here is where you need to show your worth to your clients and actually build your business. With terrific values for your clients, they will be more receptive to an upgraded experience as long as there is equivalent value. Once they travel, can you guess what they will want to experience when the economy turns around and they are ready to spend some serious money? Can you guess who they will seek out to plan that trip?
You likely will have a client looking for a 4 night cruise he saw advertised for $100 per person for an inside cabin. Of course you are not going to convince him to hop on a Crystal World Cruise, but for $150 per person, he is probably very interested in an ocean view cabin. And he will seriously consider a balcony at $200. So what just happened? You just increased your revenue by 100%. And when that client comes back raving about the balcony cabin, don’t you think he may be in the market for a mini-suite or a suite the next time around? All-inclusive packages are also a very smart product to promote. Cost predictability is a critical feature to sell. Your clients will have very few surprises such as the cost of dinner in Nassau or the cost of a cab from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. And when you tell them their total cost upfront, you look like the hero.
As I mentioned, there will be agencies that fail. Keep your ear to the ground and you may come up a winner. You do not need to buy a sick agency. But it might make sense to discuss taking over their phone, redirecting their website, or even buying their client list and offering the owner a slice of future revenues from that list. These are very easy, no to low cost solutions to build your client base. The failing agency’s clients are not going to stop traveling. They will go somewhere…why not to you?
Know your client. Know their travel budgets and habits. If you are not working your CRM tool, now is the time to kick it into high gear. The value of a good database is more evident now than it has ever been and working your data will ensure that you will not only weather this storm, but even come out ahead.